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On the Rise: Rooney Mara

Thanks to Hollywood’s juiciest female role, she’s been fiercely groomed for superstardom and hurled into the popular conversation.

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On the Rise: Rooney Mara
Photo: Columbia Pictures

There are a lot of breakout stars, but there aren’t too many like Rooney Mara, a relative unknown who, thanks to Hollywood’s juiciest female role, has been fiercely groomed for superstardom and hurled into the popular conversation. Recent ingenues like Elizabeth Olsen and Jennifer Lawrence have seen their directors’ good faith pay off at modest festival unveilings, where their out-of-nowhere performances wowed crowds and set off storms of buzz. Mara, however, has been programmed to be in their company, her out-of-nowhere impact predetermined by a director of similar good faith and a character who entices just about everyone, from magazine editors to goth lesbians to book-loving grandmothers. A molded muse if ever there was one, Mara went from stealing scenes in David Fincher’s The Social Network to morphing into the auteur’s vision of pop culture’s baddest vigilantess since The Bride, maybe even since Ellen Ripley. Her pierced, paled, and punked-out new look—a world away from the pretty, conservative chic she displayed as The Social Network’s Erica Albright—began trickling out in glimpses, with outlets like W Magazine carefully unrolling the black carpet to introduce the stateside incarnation of Lisbeth Salander. We were beckoned, and we gladly took the bait, yet through it all Mara remained silent and mysterious, an inaccessible figure literally poked and prodded as she assumed her fated, scrutinized position as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

What Mara presented offscreen isn’t really all that different from what she presents onscreen in Fincher’s latest. Her performance as Salander isn’t great, and it’s worth noting that, as an actor, she was more impressive in her few searing Social Network scenes, wherein she curtly and articulately chewed out the king of Facebook. In Dragon Tattoo, she is predominantly a presence, a slinky, androgynous, techno ghost who occasionally offers serviceable line readings while struggling with a Nordic accent. You feel her aura as you did in those magazine spreads, where she posed and didn’t speak. The consensus is dead-on, however, in that she is utterly hypnotic to watch, a commanding, outré beauty with a laser-like focus wholly appropriate for her iconic character. As evidenced by the many keenly chosen, square-jawed blondes who bring the Swedish tale to life, Fincher cast this thing for looks, and with Mara, he found a porcelain jackpot, whose skin and facial structure could be stared at for hours, and could evidently provide assurance that the necessary performance would emerge in due course (proven talents like Anne Hathaway and Mia Wasikowska were famously up for this part, but as recent doodles suggest, such casting probably wouldn’t have worked, as none of Hollywood’s go-tos boast Mara’s rare form, let alone her invaluable obscurity). Mara creeps through Fincher’s mise-en-scène in such a steely, perfectly immersed way that you can’t imagine anyone else doing it, and this is a second-round portrayal we’re talking about.

The Dragon Tattoo property can now take credit for launching two actresses’ careers (if you’re looking for Noomi Rapace, odds are she’s doing press events with Robert Downey Jr., or maybe re-shoots with Ridley Scott). And in addition to serving as a door to more opportunities, the role of Salander has accommodated two paths of embodiment. Aided by her heritage and a complete lack of vanity, Rapace was far more persuasive in terms of what the character had to tell you, and she never exhibited an ounce of the reticence that so often hinders newcomers. Mara, on the other hand, can’t be touched when it comes to magnetic physicality, and her obvious commitment to the role goes a long way in helping to eclipse her limitations. At 26, Mara shows a malleability and professional zeal that are both terribly exciting, pointing to more daring work and ever-sharpening execution. And if any added confidence is needed regarding the camera’s profound idolization of her, a simple Google search for her red carpet strolls will confirm that she’s equally intoxicating out of character. One can be primed for the badass role of a lifetime and even put through the A-List mill, but some virtues need no igniting.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.

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A24
Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Al2nC0vzY

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.

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20th Century Fox
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.

Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: A Star Is Born

Should Win: First Man

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